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Personal Injury and Insurance Law Legal Research Blog

TORTS: Government's Liability for Child Abuse by Foster Parents

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 @ 12:06 PM

The Lawletter Vol 44 No 4

Fred Shackelford—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Can a government agency be held liable in tort when a child is abused by a foster parent? The Washington Supreme Court addressed this issue of first impression in H.B.H. v. State, 429 P.3d 484 (Wash. 2018). In that case, several children were placed in foster care with a couple who abused the children physically, sexually, and psychologically over a five-year period. For a year during that period, social workers failed to conduct mandatory in-home health and safety checks, and the agency ultimately recommended that the foster parents be allowed to adopt the children. Years later, two of the children brought a tort action against the state Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”).

            The DSHS argued that it owed no common-law duty because the children were not in the agency's physical custody at the time the abuse occurred. Rejecting that argument, the court concluded that a detailed statutory scheme created a special relationship between the agency and the children. The custodial relationship between the DSHS and the children gives rise to a common-law duty in accordance with Restatement (Second) of Torts § 315(b). The court found that such a special relationship exists even though the DSHS did not have actual physical custody of the children.

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Topics: torts, Alfred C. Shackelford III, government liability, foster parent abuse

Liability for Employer's Failure to Obtain Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Thu, Jan 24, 2019 @ 11:01 AM

Matthew McDavitt—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Sometimes, through ignorance or neglect, employers subject to the state statutory workers' compensation mandates fail to obtain or maintain the requisite insurance. Where employers subject to the system's mandates are found on the date of an employee's workplace accident (or other compensable event) to lack such insurance (either as a self-insurer or through a third-party insurer), such noncompliance with the workers' compensation insurance mandate has serious consequences for the employer.

            First, a noncompliant employer loses a primary benefit of the workers' compensation system's exclusive remedy provision.  This provision bars injured workers from suing their employers in tort in exchange for statutorily defined wage replacement and medical benefits, thereby significantly limiting the potential legal exposure of the employer regarding such accidents.

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Topics: Matthew T. McDavitt, workers' compensation, noncompliance consequences, insurance requisite, state's employer mandates

TORTS: Therapist's Liability for Eliciting False Memories of Sexual Abuse

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Thu, Dec 27, 2018 @ 11:12 AM

Fred Shackelford—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            When individuals are accused of sexual misconduct on the basis of "recovered memories," courts must sometimes decide whether a therapist can be held liable for eliciting such memories from patients. In Mower v. Baird, 2018 UT 29, 422 P.3d 837 (as corrected July 11, 2018), the plaintiff's ex-wife took the couple's child to a therapist, who suspected child abuse. The therapist contacted authorities and was told to gather more information. Contrary to established guidelines, the therapist continued therapy instead of asking a forensic interviewer to talk to the child. Subsequently, there was a "supported" finding of sexual abuse against the plaintiff.

            The plaintiff sued the therapist for medical malpractice and negligence, but the trial court found that the therapist owed no duty to him. The Mower court examined five factors in deciding whether a duty exists:

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Topics: torts, Alfred C. Shackelford III, inappropriate treatment techniques, therapist, improper application of treament, false memories

INSURANCE: Automatic Revocation of Beneficiary upon Divorce

Posted by Amy Gore on Mon, Nov 26, 2018 @ 11:11 AM

Amy Gore—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            The area of presumed intent in the designation of life insurance policies has long been a source of dispute and litigation. When a state legislature enacts statutes that address an automatic revocation of insurance beneficiary status under particular circumstances, additional litigation is likely to result. Such was the case in Sveen v. Melin, 138 S. Ct. 1815, 1817 (2018). There, a couple were married in 1997 and the following year the named insured designated his wife as the primary beneficiary under his life insurance policy, and his two children from a prior marriage as contingent beneficiaries. The couple divorced in 2007, and the divorce decree never addressed the disposition of the life insurance policy or the rights of the contingent beneficiaries. Upon the named insured's death in 2011, both the wife and the two children made competing claims for the entire proceeds. The children of the named insured relied on Minnesota Statutes § 524.2-804, subd. 1, which provided that divorce revoked the beneficiary designation of any former spouse. The former spouse asserted that the statute, which was not in effect at the time the policy was purchased and the time she was designated as a beneficiary, violated the Contract Clause, U.S. Const. art. 1, § 10, cl. 1. 

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Topics: insurance law, presumed intent, Amy Gore, life insurance beneficiary

TORTS: Is Your Computer Tracking You?

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Mon, Oct 8, 2018 @ 11:10 AM

Fred Shackelford, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            In a case of first impression, the Wyoming Supreme Court has adopted the intrusion upon seclusion branch of the common-law tort of invasion of privacy. In Howard v. Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc., 2017 WY 152, 406 P.3d 1271 (Wyo. 2017), the plaintiffs leased computers from a rent-to-own store. They alleged that the store installed software on the computers that allowed the store to track the computers' locations, remotely activate the computers' webcams, and capture screen shots and key strokes. The customers sued the store, alleging claims for the invasion of privacy and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The lower courts ruled that Wyoming does not recognize a claim for the intrusion upon seclusion.

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Topics: invasion of privacy, personal injury, intrusion upon seclusion, computer tracking

TORTS: Social Host's Legal Duty to Render First Aid

Posted by Lee P. Dunham on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 @ 11:01 AM

Lee Dunham, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            During the holiday season, many of us open our homes to friends and coworkers and, unfortunately, sometimes a guest is injured or becomes sick on the property. What is the scope of a host's duty to render first aid to the uncle who cuts his hand while carving the turkey, or the New Year's Eve guest who has far too much to drink?

            Courts of most states generally follow the scheme outlined in the Restatement (Second) of Torts as to duty to render aid. The general rule, of course, is that there is no duty to render aid to one who is in peril, even if it would be easy to provide assistance. See Restatement § 314 ("The fact that the actor realizes or should realize that action on his part is necessary for another's aid or protection does not of itself impose upon him a duty to take such action."). But an exception applies when a "special relationship" exists between the parties.

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Topics: torts, special relationship exception, legal duty to guest, first aid

PERSONAL INJURY: Comparative Fault in Crashworthiness Cases

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 @ 10:01 AM

Fred Shackelford, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Can a plaintiff motorist's comparative fault be considered in crashworthiness cases based on strict liability or breach of warranty? That was the issue of first impression for the South Carolina Supreme Court in Donze v. General Motors, LLC, 420 S.C. 8, 800 S.E.2d 479 (2017). In Donze, the plaintiff passenger had been smoking synthetic marijuana earlier in the day. He sustained severe burn injuries when the truck in which he was riding burst into flames after colliding with another vehicle at a controlled intersection. The accident occurred because the truck driver failed to stop and pulled directly in front of the other vehicle.

            The plaintiff brought a crashworthiness case against the truck's manufacturer, alleging that the truck's design was defective because the gas tank was placed outside of the truck's frame. Two issues were certified to the Donze court:

  1. Does comparative negligence in causing an accident apply in a crashworthiness case when the plaintiff alleges claims of strict liability and breach of warranty and is seeking damages related only to the plaintiff's enhanced injuries?
  2. Does South Carolina's public policy bar impaired drivers from recovering damages in a crashworthiness case when the plaintiff alleges claims of strict liability and breach of warranty?
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Topics: comparative fault, personal injury law, strict liability, crashworthiness cases, breach of warranty

PERSONAL INJURY: Suicide as Intervening Event

Posted by John M. Stone on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 @ 11:09 AM

John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            According to the "intervening causes doctrine," there can be no proximate cause, as is required for liability in a negligence case, where there has intervened between the act of the defendant and the injury to the plaintiff an independent act or omission of someone other than the defendant, that was not foreseeable by the defendant, was not triggered by the defendant's act, and was sufficient of itself to cause the injury. As a general rule, suicide is deemed an unforeseeable intervening cause of death that absolves the tortfeasor of negligence liability in an action for wrongful death.

            When a mother brought an action against a city and its police officer for wrongful death arising out of her teenage daughter's suicide death, after the officer's disclosure of photographs of the daughter's body following her previous suicide attempt, the claim failed because of the intervening cause doctrine.  City of Richmond Hill v. Maia, No. S16G1337, 2017 WL 2332660 (Ga. May 30, 2017).

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Topics: suicide, personal injury, intervening cause doctrine, special relationship exception

CONTRACTS: Breach-of-Contract Claims in Medical Malpractice Cases Require Breach of Additional Promise

Posted by Emily Abel on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 @ 11:08 AM

Emily Abel, Research Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            On March 17, 2017, in Heneberry v. Pharoan, 232 Md. App. 468, 158 A.3d 1087 (2017), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals addressed the issue of what is required to prevail on a breach-of-contract claim in a medical malpractice action. The plaintiff, Valerie Heneberry ("Heneberry") who was suffering from acute appendicitis, received an appendectomy from Dr. Bashar Pharoan ("Dr. Pharoan"). During the surgery, Dr. Pharoan removed most of Heneberry's appendix, but left the "stump" of the appendix. Heneberry alleged that because of Dr. Pharoan's failure to remove her entire appendix, she experienced severe pain and was forced to undergo an additional surgical procedure to remove the remainder of her appendix.

            In addition to bringing claims for negligence and loss of consortium, Heneberry included in her medical malpractice complaint a count alleging that Dr. Pharoan had breached their contract. Specifically, Heneberry alleged that Dr. Pharoan had a "contractual obligation to perform an appendectomy, which is the removal of the appendix, not a portion of the appendix, and [there was] no testimony that he intended to leave a portion behind." Id. at ___, 158 A.3d at 1094.

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Topics: contracts, breach of contract claim, medical malpractice

PERSONAL INJURY: Effect of Injured Party's Immigration Status

Posted by Alfred C. Shackelford III on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 @ 11:08 AM

Fred Shackelford, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In a case of first impression, the Indiana Supreme Court has addressed two issues that affect actions arising from injuries to plaintiffs who are in the United States unlawfully. In Escamilla v. Shiel Sexton Co., Inc., 73 N.E.3d 663 (Ind. 2017), an unauthorized immigrant (a Mexican citizen) was injured while working as a masonry laborer at an Indiana job site. He sued the general contractor, which argued that his immigration status should bar him from recovering damages for decreased earning capacity. The Escamilla court addressed both that issue and the admissibility of the plaintiff's status.

            As to the first issue, the court ruled that the plaintiff could recover damages for decreased earning capacity. The court relied upon the Open Courts Clause in the state's constitution, which mandates that courts shall be open and that "every person . . . shall have remedy by due course of law." Id. at 665. The court reasoned that "[w]e cannot read the Open Courts Clause's 'every person' guarantee to exclude unauthorized immigrants." Id. at 667.

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Topics: personal injury, admissibility, damages for decreased earning capacity, unauthorized immigration status, Indiana Open Courts Clause

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